GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Grand Rapids Griffins currently have a problem the Detroit Red Wings know all too well: a lack of offensive production.
After a 4-2 loss on Saturday against the Hershey Bears, the Griffins have scored four goals in the past three games, all of which are losses. With Saturday’s loss, Grand Rapids’ record (2-3-0-1) fell below .500 for the first time in nearly two years, since being 7-8-0-1 on Nov. 27, 2015.
The Griffins held a slim 1-0 lead late in the second period despite a 19-6 shot advantage thanks to Bears goalie Adam Carlson — the fourth goalie in Hershey’s system — who finished with 24 saves. A short-handed goal at the 17:18 mark by Chandler Stephenson, who eventually netted a hat trick, took all the momentum away from the Griffins.
— GrandRapids Griffins (@griffinshockey) October 22, 2017
“The short-handed goal killed us,” Griffins coach Todd Nelson told Wings Nation. “That was one that we can’t allow to happen. One (goal) went off our defenseman’s stick into the net. Those things do happen from time to time. One of our players gets tripped up in the neutral zone, it’s a 2-on-0 breakaway (goal). And another one is just a lost battle.
“The short-handed goal let them into the game. I think they only had six shots at the time, and we are in control of it. Those things happen sometimes, but we gotta have the ability to push back in those scenarios.”
Nelson attributed Saturday’s loss to a lack of execution.
“I thought our system work was decent, but if we can’t make a 10-foot pass, it really doesn’t matter what systems you draw up or what breakouts you draw up if you don’t execute,” he said. “The puck’s gonna end up back in your end, and you’re playing defensive zone coverage.
“It comes down to mental. It’s all mental. Bearing down in certain situations, that’s really what it comes down to.”
Puempel to make debut Wednesday
After being traded from the New York Rangers on Saturday in exchange for Ryan Sproul, forward Matt Puempel will make his debut for the Griffins when they face the Tuscon Roadrunners, according to Nelson.
“If he’s here, and I can see the whites of his eyes, he will be,” Nelson said of Puempel playing.
The 24-year-old played 13 games for the Ottawa Senators last season with no points and 27 games with the Rangers, scoring six goals and adding three assists.
Nelson said he hadn’t seen any video of Puempel but liked what he saw from the numbers he has posted.
“I’ve never seen him play, but just based on his numbers, it looks like he’s a guy that brings something to the table that we need right now,” he said. “He’s a guy that can score some goals at this level, and right now, we’re lacking a bit of offense.”
Nelson also added there’s a possibility another defenseman is called up to the Griffins from the Toledo Walleye to replace Sproul, but he said he didn’t know which player that would be.
Update: The Griffins announced Monday that defenseman Vili Saarijarvi was assigned to Grand Rapids.
— GrandRapids Griffins (@griffinshockey) October 23, 2017
Saarijarvi has played in three games for the Toledo Walleye, with one assist. The third-round pick from the 2015 draft had 11 goals and 20 assists in 34 games with the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads during the 2016-17 season.
Svechnikov struggles in first two games
Evgeny Svechnikov made his season debut Friday in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Rockford IceHogs. He had one shot. In his second game — Saturday’s loss to Hershey — he also had one shot.
The 20-year-old admitted he’s struggling to get back up to game speed.
“I didn’t feel great, but it’s only the second game,” he said. “So, stick with it and keep working.”
Nelson summed up Svechnikov’s first two games with a short and sweet response.
“He’s been off for quite a while, and he’s got a ways to go yet,” Nelson said.